Adding to her late-in-life ubiquity, Betty White is easily the best reason to watch “The Lost Valentine,” a wildly romantic Hallmark Hall of Fame production whose finest tear-inducing efforts evoke the sentimental appeal of “The Notebook.” Alas, that’s only half the movie, and the other part — featuring Jennifer Love Hewitt as a TV reporter with her own relationship woes — is tired and predictable. Still, in the context of this storied franchise’s let’s-move-holiday-cards mandate, half a heart is preferable to none at all.
A sprightly octogenarian, White’s Caroline makes a sobering annual pilgrimage to the local train station, where she symbolically awaits the arrival of her husband, registered as missing during WWII, 65 years earlier.
A TV magazine reporter, Susan (Hewitt), is assigned the story, which she’s quick to dismiss as the kind of silly human-interest story that will hardly advance her career. (For anything but the purposes of a Hallmark movie, by the way, this would be true.)
Still, Susan is gradually drawn in by the uplifting Caroline, inspiring the reporter not only to re-examine her own unfulfilling relationship but to begin a flirtation with Caroline’s grandson (Sean Faris), who is initially skeptical of her motives.
For White, who has become something of a pop-culture marvel at 89, the role offers a chance to do something more than just dutifully play the foul-mouthed granny. She brings tenderness and warmth to Caroline’s decades-old love, which is illustrated through flashbacks featuring Meghann Fahy as her younger self and Billy Magnussen as her husband.
“?’Missing’ is not ‘dead,'” a pregnant, younger Caroline keeps repeating, grasping for a glimmer of hope, when the first telegram reaches her.
Even if Susan’s efforts to bring Caroline a measure of closure strain credibility, the payoff (adapted from James Michael Pratt’s book by director Darnell Martin and writers Maryann Ridini Spencer and Barton Taney) ought to thaw all but the most hardened hearts. The same can hardly be said of Hewitt, who — in her current TV movie phase — was put to better use as a mom turned hooker in Lifetime’s “The Client List.” Or maybe that’s just me.
“Lost Valentine” occupies the softest side of the Hallmark universe. Thanks to White, though, it’s still worth opening this heart-shaped box, even if you already have a pretty good idea what’s inside.